Editor’s note: In August 2011 PCT conducted a survey of some of its readers focusing on their company’s safety training and programs. The results of that survey appear throughout this article.
Anyone who works with pesticides understands and respects the associated risks. Unfortunately, pest management professionals sometimes forget about the other physical risks of servicing a route: potential accidents, injuries and illnesses that run the gamut from mild inconveniences to life-threatening situations.
Entomologist Larry Pinto, a 25+-year veteran of urban entomology and founder of pest control publishing and consulting firm Pinto & Associates, says that pest management companies are becoming more proactive in developing safety training programs for technicians.
“Awareness of the need for safety programs has grown particularly strong over the past five years,” states Pinto. “In addition to management being concerned about employee well-being, many insurance companies are requiring safety plans. Companies working with government accounts are often required to submit their safety programs prior to being awarded contracts as well.”
A steadfast advocate for safety on the job, Pinto wrote the Pest Control Technician Safety Manual, 2nd Edition, a comprehensive safety guide for technicians in the field. This article discusses a few of the more common route risks discussed in Pinto’s book; visit pctonline.com/Store to order the complete manual.
Slips, Trips and Falls. Although they may seem inconsequential, slips, trips and falls account for 10 percent of accidents resulting in lost time from work. These accidents can happen anywhere: at your company’s facility, at a job site or walking from the truck to the customer’s front door. Weather and work-site conditions — snow, ice, spilled oil, construction debris, etc. — can contribute to the risk of slipping and tripping.
Awareness and common sense go a long way in preventing slips, trips and falls. Pinto also offers these tips:
- Use a flashlight when working in low-light areas.
- Wear skid-resistant shoes or boots.
- Balance any loads you carry, and don’t carry anything that blocks your vision.
- Clean up spills immediately.
- If you’re falling, toss away anything you’re carrying, and turn and roll to avoid landing on your back or head.
Loading docks can present particularly dangerous conditions. Stay clear of loading deck edges, be aware that dock plates can be slippery, and always be alert in the presence of forklifts or other moving equipment. “Dock jumping,” rather than using the stairs, can lead to serious injuries as well.
Bloodborne Pathogens. Should your work take you into a hospital, medical lab, nursing home or the home of someone under medical care, be aware that you could be exposed to bloodborne pathogens, agents within blood, body fluids or medical waste that cause diseases. (You can also be exposed if you administer first aid or are in the vicinity of illegal drug use.)
Your first line of defense is education: Find out about bloodborne diseases and how they’re transmitted, and consider vaccinations for the hepatitis B virus. Also:
- Wear proper safety equipment. Depending on the situation, this might include disposable gloves or mask, goggles, a respirator or other personal protective equipment.
- Avoid needlesticks. Never reach into areas you can’t see into, such as trash cans or under sofa cushions or mattresses.
- Never touch medical waste, bandages, blood or other bodily fluids or contaminated laundry.
- If you are unsure whether you should be entering a medical or laboratory area, don’t.
Pest-Related Diseases. Coming into contact with pests can expose you to a broad range of diseases. Precautionary measures can minimize the chances you’ll be infected by one of these diseases, but if you experience symptoms after contact with pests, seek prompt medical attention.
Situations in which you might encounter disease-carrying organisms or parasites include:
- Bird and bat roosts. Rabies is a concern if you are bitten, scratched or have other direct contact with an infected bat; organisms that cause histoplasmosis and cryptococcosis grow in bird and bat droppings; and bird mites, bat bugs and other ectoparasites (external parasites) can bite. Wear a respirator equipped with a high-efficiency filter, disposable protective gloves, hat, coveralls, eye protection and booties when working in and around roosts.
- Exposure to animals hosting ticks or to tick-infested areas, such as dense undergrowth, grass or weeds. Ticks carry a variety of diseases, notably Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and ehrlichiosis. Wear long sleeves and long pants, tuck pant legs into your socks and boots, keep your collar buttoned and spray your shoes, clothing and exposed skin with tick repellent. Check yourself for ticks when you shower, and if you are bitten, remove the tick immediately and save it in alcohol in case there’s a need for testing.
- Contact with rodents, which can carry hantavirus, lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCM), plague and rat-bite fever (RBF). Always wear animal-handling or trapper’s gloves when handling rodents, dispose of rodent carcasses by sealing them in a plastic bag and, if a rodent infestation is heavy, consider spraying the area with an insecticide/acaracide to eliminate ectoparasites.
- Contact with rabid animals — raccoons, skunks, dogs, cats and other warm-blooded animals. Rabies is always deadly if left untreated. Seek medical attention immediately if you come into contact with a rabid animal and, if possible, take the animal in for testing.
- Crawlspaces or other areas that might be contaminated with animal feces, which could be infected with hookworms (intestinal parasites). This is a fairly common risk to service technicians, who may experience “creeping eruption,” inflamed, itchy tracks in the skin caused by burrowing hookworms. They should never crawl through soil with bare arms, hands, legs, etc.
Crush Injuries and Trauma. Working in and around construction sites or large food plants increases the risk of crush injuries and trauma. Always stay alert in these environments, follow construction site rules and keep the following precautions in mind:
On a construction site:
- Be aware of any heavy equipment that’s in operation. Forklift tip-over is a common cause of fatal injuries, as is getting pinned between machinery and a wall or a stack of materials.
- Wear a hard hat and be alert to workers who are active overhead.
- Be wary working next to masonry walls, which can collapse if not well-supported.
- Don’t enter a trench if piles of dirt are close to the edge or if heavy equipment is parked or moving nearby; either of these conditions could cause a collapse.
In a food plant:
- Be alert, especially when working during off-hours. Equipment operators won’t expect anyone to be there and may not see you.
- Beware of high stacks of materials, and examine what’s overhead. Most accidents in food plants involve technicians’ being crushed by materials or equipment that falls on them as they’re working.
Entrapment & Confined Spaces. Entering sewers, storm drains, manhole vaults, grain bins, elevator pits or other confined spaces is risky business. The types of accidents that can happen in these locations tend to be serious, and sometimes fatal. That’s why the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandates permits for entering these confined spaces, where you work in cramped, restricted conditions and often must squeeze through a small opening to enter.
- Do not enter a permit-required confined space unless you have been authorized by the owner or operator to enter it and you have been trained in the special safety requirements of permit-space entry.
- Do not try to rescue a co-worker trapped in a permit-required confined space unless you are trained and equipped to do so.
Electric Shock. Electrocution causes roughly one in 10 workplace fatalities. Pest control technicians face a number of electrical hazards, from using damaged electrical tools to spraying onto live electrical lines to having direct contact with live wires in crawlspaces, attics or industrial settings. Look more deeply into this topic, as there are many precautions you should take to prevent electric shock, including:
- Never remove a grounding prong or bypass the ground.
- Use only grounded or double-insulated tools.
- Do not use equipment with damaged cords or cracked casings.
- Use a ground fault interrupter (GFI) when drilling through a slab or using any electrical tool in a wet area.
- Do not apply water-based pesticide near live electrical currents.
- Do not work outside during thunderstorms.
Fire and Explosion. When a fire starts, remember that your first concern should not be putting it out but rather protecting yourself and others. If you’re not certain you can control a fire, move yourself and others away, and never attempt to extinguish burning chemicals/pesticides. Evacuate the area and call the fire department.
For pest management professionals, the most common cause of explosions and fire happens when filling gas cans. Pinto warns that a fire can ignite spontaneously due to static electricity and offers the following precautions:
- Do not refill portable gasoline containers while they are inside pickup trucks or cars. Remove them and place them on the ground a safe distance from the vehicle.
- Touch the container with the gas dispenser nozzle before removing the container lid (to dissipate static charges to the ground).
- Keep the nozzle in contact with the container inlet when filling.
- Manually control the nozzle throughout the filling process.
- Fill the container slowly to decrease the chance of static electricity buildup.
Violence. The risk of personal attack while you’re on the job should not be taken lightly. If your territory includes inner-city neighborhoods known for drug or violent activity, you service public housing or low-income apartment complexes, or your job requires you to collect cash, you should be especially wary. Pinto offers the following precautions:
Identify situations in which violence could erupt and act to avoid it.
- If you feel you face a significant risk of personal attack by entering a building or residence, do not enter. (Consult your supervisor or the site manager when in doubt.)
- Drive gently to prevent road rage attacks.
- Back down in confrontations.
Pets sometimes become violent as well. Never approach a strange dog and, if approached by a dog, allow it to sniff. Don’t reach out or make eye contact, and only pet the dog if the owner gives permission. Remember, too, that a wagging tail doesn’t always indicate friendliness: A dog holding its tail high and wagging stiffly is usually a bad sign.
The author is a Cleveland-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to PCT magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Larry Pinto’s book Pest Control Technician Safety Manual, now in its 2nd edition, covers more than 50 safety-related topics, offering information and precautionary measures that can save lives and reduce time away from work. Visit pctonline.com/Store for details.